In this autobiography published in 2016, Trevor Noah talks about his childhood in the South Africa, first during apartheid, then post-apartheid. More particularly, he explains what it means to grow up as a Métis child in the 1990s, in a country known as one of the most racist and segregationist of the time. He is in fact born of a Xhosa mother, black, and a Swiss father, white. The very origin of his birth is therefore a crime (born a crime).
Each chapter starts with a little introduction in reference to the culture, to the socio-economic background of South Africa, then Trevor Noah narrates a particular anecdote which happened to him in connection with this established context. Through his childlike gaze, he shows us a different culture, his culture, while bringing out his biggest folly, all with a lot of humour.
Trevor Noah, although not widely known in France, is a huge celebrity in the United States and South Africa. In 2009, at the age of 25, he hosted his first one-man-show in Johannesburg and was immediately invited to perform in the United Kingdom.
Since 2015, he has been the host of the well-known programme The Daily Show. This talk show is a kind of parody of the television news, very focused on political issues and the analysis of the treatment of information by the American media. For many young people, this is a real way to keep up to date with the latest news, while developing critical thinking skills.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, he was among the 35 most influential people in New York media in 2017 and in 2018.
On 14 March 2021, Trevor Noah was chosen to present the 63rd Grammy Awards.
Humour against racism
Trevor Noah is famous for his ability to approach racial themes with great humour and simplicity. In his sketches, we often find references to colonisation, to the cultural differences to which he had to adapt when arriving in the United States, etc. He is very talented for the imitation of accents, also of figures like D. Trump, B. Obama or N. Mandela. He likewise speaks several languages: Zulu, Xhosa, English, Sotho, Tswana, Afrikaans, Tsonga and German.
According to Kurt Schoonraad1, the director of Cape Town Comedy Club, humour has played an important role in the fall of apartheid because comedy celebrates both diversity and similarities. He also explains that the aim of apartheid was to pit cultures against each other, to compartmentalize them and never to make them meet. Yet, people are afraid of what they do not know.
On the other hand, it should be noted that a joke about race is only allowed if its author is directly concerned and tells us about his experience. Otherwise, we fall into racism, aiming to deliberately mock an individual, a community, a religion, etc, in order to distance it from oneself and to mark one’s domination by establishing a difference between “Them” and “Us”.
Humour can, thus, when it is wisely used, bring tolerance and acceptance of one another; and that is what Trevor Noah does successfully in Born a Crime. In 2016, when it was published, it became the #1 Bestseller according to the New York Times and received the literary prize “American Humor” awarded by the Thurber House in 2017.
Currently, a film adaptation of the book is in progress.
To go further
All the programmes of Daily Show are freely available on the Youtube channel of the show, in English and subtitled in English.
If the sanitary situation allows, Trevor Noah should be back on the stage to present his new show, Loud & Clear, from September 2021 in London and in other English-speaking countries until 2022.
His previous shows, Afraid of the Dark (2017) and Son of Patricia (2017) are available now on Netflix.
|↑1||SPRINGER, U. (2016). What does humor in South Africa have to do with the fall of the Berlin Wall? blog.sap.com. [online]. Nov 14. Available at: https://blogs.sap.com/2015/11/14/the-power-of-humor-how-writing-can-help-heal-wounds-and-boost-self-esteem/ [Accessed 30 May 2021].|